Thursday 14 September 2017

ain't no time for regret: learning to love with marina and the diamonds

yesterday was my third 7am start of the week and my last until next wednesday. i've now been blessed with six days off and am finally making a trip to york to see my best friend's new flat on saturday. but instead of having a relaxing day off i'm writing this post which will encompass the majority of marina and the diamonds' back catalogue. this post has been sitting in my drafts for nearly two years, ever since i saw these posts about electra heart and froot and decided i needed to write my own, though i know i'll never be able to encapsulate the emotions described quite as well as witchsong's writers. 

in order to go backwards, i'm going to go forwards. whilst waiting for my shift to start on monday, i was browsing twitter and saw a link marina had posted to a mysterious site, simply titled marinabook. wondering if it was the announcement of new music we've all been waiting for since 2015's froot, i clicked on it in double quick time. though nothing to do with new music, it was in fact a heartfelt letter to fans detailing how she has been dealing with her time away from the spotlight and the affect its had on her sense of identity, and it hit me way too hard for 6:50am on a monday. i've been banging on about how i've struggled to adjust to being back at home since graduating in june, and though i'm finally starting to settle into a vague semblance of a routine, everything she wrote still resonated with me in A Big Way. you can read the full thing here, but allow me to summarise the parts that hit me hardest. 

i. "i started to feel like there were two parts of me, artist self and private self, and there was nothing in between to link the two anymore"
ii. "not being able to equate my identity to a job, project or visible entity has created a lot of discomfort and uncertainty in me"

though i'm not a mega-successful pop star, i recognise that my "real" self (if there is such a thing; i'll save the a-level philosophy spiel for another time) is wildly different to the curated version of myself and my life that i post online, and i discussed this at length here. like marina i've felt a huge disconnect between the two and have reduced the amount i post on instagram for fear of somehow deceiving people and tricking them into thinking i have an amazing life all of the time. the second quote perfectly sums up the last six years of my life; after deciding i needed to study fashion at university, it became my main goal in life and once i'd reached it i found myself at a loss for what was next. never had i stopped to think what would happen once i actually got into uni and graduated, and i'm still fighting that sense of uncertainty as i try to figure out what it is i really want to do with my life.  

marina's words have always managed to resonate so deeply with me that i almost feel like she read my mind when creating her three albums; each one represents a significant time in my life and i'm going to try and summarise them by discussing (some of) my favourite songs from each. but before that, marina's latest release disconnect deserves a mention as it encapsulates all my aforementioned feelings about needing to log out of social media and take a break from the virtual world that has become our everyday reality. it's also probably the only time i'll ever enjoy something clean bandit have worked on, as the track was a collaboration between the two artists. 

and now, as kylie minogue* once said, we're going to step back in time and explore the origins of marina's music. 

part one: the family jewels

i'm fairly certain the first marina and the diamonds song i ever heard was shampain, released in october 2010 as the final single from her debut album the family jewels. i vaguely remember seeing it on a music channel and was captivated by its dramatic video and electronic sound, something i've always been a fan of. though it would be another three years before i discovered "the depressing side of getting drunk" that the song discusses, it stuck with me nevertheless. (*how odd; according to wikipedia, marina said in a 2012 live lounge interview that she was forced to include it on the album and felt it would have been  better suited for none other than kylie herself.) 

another video i vividly remember seeing on the music channels around this time was for hollywood, with what can only be described as a kitschy cartoon wonderland. lyrically, marina discusses her obsession with "the mess that's america", taking a swipe at the consumer culture that promises women worldwide a happy ending via rom coms and nauseatingly cheesy wedding proposals. speaking of obsessions, this quickly became another favourite track as i began to realise my anxiety was fast becoming A Problem, and the scene she describes of her inability to choose a packet of crackers at the supermarket would mirror my own situation at university some years later; i spent countless hours standing in front of the snack shelves in tesco unable to make a decision, channelling my own existential dread into which items to buy. 

marina reveals her vulnerability in the piano-led ballad i am not a robot, and it still feels like a sharp stab in the chest when i listen to it now as there's been many times where people have thought of me as unemotional or simply boring; i've lost count of the number of times i've been asked "why i don't talk much" by complete strangers or people i've only met a few times, as if i'm expected to share my entire life story with them. opening up has always been difficult. but it's reassuring to know that marina felt the same, as she pleads with her lover to make her "feel real" and "turn my power on". it's rare that somebody can flip that switch in me and illuminate the confident side i know i possess deep down, but these days i'm more accepting of the fact that i don't have to reveal my innermost secrets to every single person i meet. 

another thing marina and i seem to share is a heightened sense of ambition and fear of failure, seen in the tracks oh no! and are you satisfied? the former is a super sassy track filled with hand claps, in which marina makes it clear that she don't do love / don't do friends / i'm only after success, and that if i fail, i'll fall apart. disturbingly self-aware, marina makes light of the fact that she walks and talks like a machine, as she becomes her own self-fulfilled prophecy. similar themes are discussed in are you satisfied? as she's driven by a greed to succeed. the chorus finds her asking the real questions: are you satisfied with an average life? are you satisfied with an easy ride? and these lyrics feel more relevant to me now than ever as i'm driven by a similar desire to not get stuck working in retail forever. 

other tracks worth your time: the outsider / numb / mowgli's road / girls 

part two: electra heart 

after many hours of deliberation, i've come to the conclusion that electra heart is my favourite marina album as i can relate to every single track in some way. i still remember the day i first saw the video for primadonna one day after school back in 2012, and continue to listen to it at least once a week. for me this song was the first time i'd seen a female pop star being open and honest about their flaws. in what had now become her signature style, she combined a thumping electronic bass line with lyrics such as all i ever wanted was the world / i can't help that i need it all / the primadonna life, the rise and fall. by the second verse, her tone is flippant, almost facetious as she sings the lines i know i've got a big ego / i really don't know why it's such a big deal though. all the traits women are taught to hate and hide are on full display here, and marina would go on to explore many other female archetypes through the use of tumblr and the music videos released as part of the album's promotion. 

marina has often stated that electra heart was simply a character, which she killed off in true ziggy stardust style by the end of the album cycle, but her performance allowed me to accept these parts of myself, and no album resonates quite as deeply with me to this day. when i saw marina live at manchester cathedral in may 2012, she opened the set with homewrecker, and it was honestly life changing. the title is fairly self explanatory, so lets move on to teen idle, of which she played a stripped back rendition that night. singing the lines burning up a bible / feeling super super super suicidal in a church was an experience quite like no other, but squashed in amongst that crowd of devoted fans, every one with a heart drawn on their left cheek, i've never felt more at home. i also saw her again in october that year at a bigger venue, but that sense of community could still be felt, and after failing in may, we made it to the barrier, giving us an excellent view of marina as she debuted a whole host of new looks.

when times were incredibly dark, the only song teenage me would play on repeat was fear and loathing, a delicate piano ballad where marina expressed a desire to be completely weightless and touch the edge of greatness. the idea of the "self" which she discussed in her recent letter can be see in the opening of the track, as marina says she's lived a lot of different lives / been different people many times. in the second verse, i felt like she speaks to me directly, even after all these years, when she says that not everyone is out to screw you over / maybe, oh just maybe they just wanna get to know you. i'm still trying to tell myself this, and though i'm a long way from fully trusting people i don't know very well, i was impressed by how well i could open up to everyone i was friends with at uni, even without alcohol in my system. 

and finally, the state of dreaming, another track i played endlessly as i live my life inside a dream / only waking when i sleep. i've spoken before about my love of daydreaming, even worrying that it could be something akin to mental illness as over the years i've spent a lot of time in my own head when reality gets too much to deal with. my heart breaks when marina says that all i really want is to be wonderful / people in this town they can be so cruel, as it reminds me of all the people at school who never really understood me; the same people who would ask why i was "so quiet" and "never said much", though i knew even if i did tell them all the things i wanted to accomplish in life, they'd never understand. i'm determined to make these dreams a reality though, mainly because i don't want the last three years of uni to be have been for nothing, and because i'm in a lot of debt. 

other tracks worth your time: lies / starring role / power and control / lonely hearts club / radioactive 

part three: froot 

marina came out fighting in 2015 with the release of froot. i couldn't help noticing that the sound was lighter, brighter, and her lyrics more positive. she also stopped working with big pop producers like diplo, instead going back to her initial writing methods; there's not a single co-write on froot compared to eight on electra heart. it seemed like she had finally made peace with herself and her life, free to be herself after playing various roles on her previous album, though when we saw her live yet again in november that year, she split the show into three parts, revisiting the electra heart character, much to the delight of fans. 

this is probably my least favourite album, but that might just be because i was comparing every track to the emotionally charged electra heart. for the album's promotion, she rolled out froot of the month, in which she released a new track every month up until the album's release in april, and i still have fond memories of the anticipation my best friend and i felt as each track came out. though i liked the title track and lead single froot, with its sleek and stylish video, it was the second single happy that stopped me in my tracks. reminiscent of early piano-led tracks like numb, the track combined upbeat, positive lyrics with a sombre melody, meaning it actually made me cry rather than feel happy. i think this was party the song itself, but also because i envied the place marina had reached in life, as she'd found what i'd been looking for in myself / found a life worth living for someone else, and all the sadness inside me / melted away like i was free. i can only hope one day i myself reach that point of being content with what i've got, as marina's journey from the family jewels to froot proved that it's possible. 

another track dealing with the theme of moving on and finding peace with a situation - in her case, a break up - was forget, a punchy guitar based track that sees marina letting go of her negative thoughts, seen in the final verse; in the end, the road is long / but only 'cause it makes you strong. listening to it now, i'm reminded of how far i've come and the experiences i've had, and even though uni was a difficult time i don't regret it because it was an experience i needed to go through. marina also makes peace with her desire to spend time alone; on solitaire, a haunting, minimal track, she makes reference to a solitaire; a ring with a single diamond set in it; something you consider rare. by comparing it with that cheap shimmer and glitter, she finally realised what's important to her, and no longer wants to waste time on people who are imitations of the real thing, a feeling i know all too well. 

my favourite track on froot is i'm a ruin, a devastatingly beautiful ballad - with an excellent music video - that makes the most obvious references to her break up. you still mean everything to me / but i want to be free she sings in the pre-chorus and that she's been doing things i shouldn't do. initially i thought this was in relation to cheating on her significant other, but according to genius, in her second FAQin' hell video, she says the line relates more to her guilt over writing about this person, and that she's paid the price for revealing so much in her lyrics. 

as the name suggests, album closer immortal deals with life and death; not the usual subject matter of most top 40 hits. that's what makes marina so exciting, though her combination of smart songwriting and perfectly produced pop is probably too much for the likes of the chainsmokers to get their heads around. i don't play this track on repeat very often, but it serves as a reassuring reminder that even in her new, more positive headspace, marina still has the same thoughts about The Meaning Of Life that keep me awake into the early hours. i wanna mean something to somebody else / feel a significance in the real world / it's not enough to live out a lucky life, goes the pre-chorus, and its clear that for marina, the money, fame and success she's gained as a pop star isn't enough and she's searching for some kind of higher purpose. i too worry that one day i'll achieve everything i want in life and still not be content, and i'm beginning to realise that it's the time we spend with other people that's the most valuable thing, though i'd love to own a chanel 2:55 someday. 

other tracks worth your time: blue / gold / weeds / these acoustic versions of i'm a ruin and happy

there's nothing i love more than watching an artist grow and develop at the same time as i do, and marina is a key example of this. her self-awareness sets her apart from the hordes of pop stars clogging up the charts with endless songs about sex and drugs, and though she might not be breaking any streaming records soon, she'll always be one of my most favourite artists. 

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